Each week following episodes of the third and final season of The Leftovers, Sophie Gilbert and Spencer Kornhaber will discuss HBO’s drama about the aftermath of 2 percent of the world’s population suddenly vanishing.
Sophie Gilbert: One of the most intriguing choices The Leftovers made early on was to frame the show around the Garveys, a family that was technically untouched by the Great Departure, but was nevertheless ruptured by the events of October 14. As was explained in the pilot, both Laurie and Tommy abandoned the unit after the event—Tommy to become a disciple of the dubious healer Holy Wayne, and Laurie to join the Guilty Remnant, leaving behind a husband and a teenaged daughter who both desperately needed her. As the first and second seasons played out, we got inklings of why Laurie had been so discombobulated by the Departure. But it wasn’t until this episode, “Certified,” possibly the most heartrending of the third season, that Laurie’s pain became totally clear.
As a therapist, Laurie’s whole career is based on understanding, empathizing with, and helping lessen the pain of others. So the opening scene, which flashed back to the woman who lost her child in the very first moments of the pilot (whom Kevin later encountered in a bar), illuminated how destabilized Laurie was by this person, and by all the people, whom she was completely unable to help. “Tell me what to fucking do,” the patient entreated. “I don’t know,” Laurie finally said, after a few minutes in which her eyes seemed to harden and go dead. So she took handfuls of pills, wrote a suicide note, lay down to die, thought better of it, made herself throw up, and then sought out the people who seemed to have definitive guidelines for responding to this completely inexplicable event. (Dress all in white, smoke cigarettes, get nihilist, and make people remember.)
Since season one, of course, Laurie’s recovered some of her pre-Departure poise, with interludes in which she counseled former GR members (unsuccessfully, as the tragic murder-suicide of Susan in “Off Ramp” revealed), had a psychotic pitch meeting with a publisher, and ended up in Jarden, where she married John Murphy and seemed to find a measure of peace in helping strangers by pretending to talk to their dead relatives (not, it’s worth emphasizing, helping strangers who’d lost loved ones in the Departure). But as “Certified” showed, she’s still unmoored by the pain of others. By John, who can’t accept that his daughter is really dead. And most of all by Nora. Laurie’s face crumpled when she had to say goodbye, possibly forever, to the woman she’d spent the whole episode squabbling with, who’d given her a black eye and abandoned the same man whom Laurie had left behind seven years ago. In that moment by the shore, Laurie seemed to feel all the agony of all the people on earth who’d lost people, and to find that agony impossible to bear.
I’ll never complain about a Laurie-centric episode, partly because Amy Brenneman is so spectacular to watch, and partly because she gets some of the wryest lines in the show. “Wow, so everybody wants something,” she deduced after arriving at the ranch. “A brain, a heart, courage.” She also summed up Kevin Sr.’s plan: “You want to drown Kevin so he can go to this place where the dead people are, and while he’s there he’s gonna learn a song from one of the dead people that he can bring back to you, so you can sing it and stop a biblical flood that’s gonna happen tomorrow.” Even to Pop, it sounded nuts. “Are we lunatics?” he asked her. “Yeah, it sounds crazy,” Laurie said. “But these are crazy times, huh?”
Laurie’s composure in this episode reminded me of a great nihilist shruggie. Yes, everyone is acting totally crazy, and no, there’s nothing she can do about it. So she just sat by on the sidelines as Nora seemed intent on going into what Laurie described as a “suicide machine,” and as Kevin Jr. seemed intent on being drowned, and as her husband and her former father-in-law all seemed intent on going along with the plan. (The fact that Laurie couldn’t or wouldn’t help Michael, who called her behind his father’s back to try and seek her help was particularly tragic.) Even when John begged her to intervene, telling Laurie that they could still go home and forget about all this craziness, it didn’t force her hand. “I think you’ve gotta see it through, John,” she said. “You’re so close.” But close to what?
So, in the end, Laurie gave up on her life’s work of advocating rational behavior—of being the person in Nora’s childhood story who crushed the beach ball at the baseball game before it went onto the pitch and resulted in “fucking chaos.” More than that, she seemed to give up on everything. The final few moments—in which she inhaled four times before launching herself into the ocean, following the discussion with Nora about a diving “accident” being the kindest way to kill yourself—were brutal. It isn’t entirely clear yet whether she’ll emerge from the water, and whether the deus ex cellphone call from Jill might change her mind. But her final acknowledgement to Kevin, “We’re all gone,” seemed to imply acceptance, and not the good kind.
Spencer, I’ve been so obsessed with Laurie that I’ve barely mentioned Nora, whose pain in this episode was jagged and raw. Or Matt, who did maybe the most selfless thing he’s ever done in deciding to stay with Nora as she goes into the machine. Or Officer Koalafart. What did you make of “Certified”? Is it weird that the lyrics to “1-800 Suicide” by Gravediggaz, which accompanied the opening credits, mention a lion’s den?
Spencer Kornhaber: As The Leftovers has so often done, this episode sent me down an existentialism Wikipedia hole. Relevant: Albert Camus, the absurdist author whose work was perused by Tommy Garvey in series premiere, once wrote that “there is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” If you suspect life has no intrinsic meaning, what does it matter if you opt out? Absurdism saw virtue in man rejecting suicide and soldiering on “without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusions,” as Jean-Paul Sartre put it, describing the protagonist of Camus’s The Stranger. But other great thinkers saw the matter differently. The nihilist Nietzsche: “The thought of suicide is a great consolation.”
Laurie Garvey often presents herself as an absurdist, accepting life’s randomness with poise. But deep down she is (as you’ve indicated, Sophie) a nihilist. Anyone who joins the Guilty Remnant would have to be. In the gut-churning opening flashback, we saw that her donning of the cult’s white clothes was, in fact, a suicidal act—a way to address her darkest impulse without actually dying. We also got a sense of how her inner torment stems from the same clarity of perception that once made her a successful psychotherapist. The patient on her couch experienced loss so senseless that it indicts existence itself, and Laurie can’t fabulate a silver lining or mystical explanation like so many other characters do. She can only see reality, and reality is bleak.
Throughout this episode, Laurie played helper to people who, by contrast, have found fanciful sources of meaning—whether by becoming disciples of Kevin or, in Nora’s case, by developing a feverish need for closure at any cost. From moment to moment, the non-Laurie characters express more acute anguish than the cool, calm Laurie ever does. But they also have access to the thrill of superstition and a sense of purpose. She knows the value of those things—hence her palm-reading startup—but isn’t able to give into them. As her friends and family disappear into metaphysical madness while the sky ominously darkens ahead of the big anniversary, she’s left with nowhere to go but under the sea.
Sophie, you used exactly the right word for tonight’s final scene: “brutal.” The camera lingered for about 15 seconds on the water after Laurie splashed in, and director Carl Franklin had to know viewers would be aching for her to bob back up in the last instant. But nope—she’s still down there, and we don’t know if it’s for good. When she symbolically committed suicide the first time, by joining the GR, it was family that pulled her back. We are now left desperately hoping that family will do the same again: Existence may be pointless in Laurie’s view, but she’s got a charming son and daughter who can liven it up at least.
The theme of suicide—and the slew of goodbyes between Laurie and other characters—made this one of the heaviest hours of The Leftovers, and that’s really saying something. Even the humor was ultra-dark. I yelped when Kevin Sr., in the background of Laurie’s shot, matter-of-factly thwacked the cop in the head. Nora seemed completely unhinged throughout, and her scuba proposition was part edgy joke and part truly evil psychological violence. Chrisopher Eccelston continued to mine queasy physical comedy from Matt’s cancer, this time by shoving tissues up his bloody nostrils while mentioning his incinerated parents. Laurie’s drugging of the Last Supper with dog medicine made for excellently gonzo cinema, with the scene progressively becoming more surreal as the would-be apostles began to lose their faculties.
As we near the end of the show, the storytelling is having to accomplish a lot— maybe too much. In particular, the dynamic between Laurie and her new husband tripped me up. John Murphy has been mostly sidelined this season, so we didn’t really understand why he’d switch from being his wife’s defender on the lion ferry to ditching her in Melbourne to head to the ranch. Their somewhat strained heart-to-heart outside of Grace’s house sounded like the work of a writers’ room hustling to address loose ends—hence the explanation of Erika’s departure, of John and Laurie’s first date, of why they shred their cash, and what the deal is with the half-finished church and boat. It also transparently felt like Kevin Carroll being given his last big scene.
The talk between Laurie and Kevin landed much better for me. These ex-spouses’ histories have been well-developed over three seasons—and yet they’ve had precious few on-screen moments of just chatting. With them both aware it might be the last time they ever see each other, they made confessions that escalated from the comical (“rest in peace, Mr. Fuzzy”—err, Funny) to the devastating (Kevin didn’t have any clue about the one Departure from his immediate family). We were also given a helpful glimpse into two very different kinds of suicidal mindsets. Kevin needs to die—or at least temporarily die—to feel “alive.” But Laurie just wants to be done. Did you catch the double entendre in her final words to him? Explaining why Kevin can keep the lighter she just tussled with Nora to retain, she says she doesn’t smoke anymore: “I quit.”